Wage freeze. Those are fighting words for Alberta’s health-care workers.
“The government is creating a mutiny,” said Jane Sustrik, second vice-president with United Nurses of Alberta.
“They accuse the special interest groups, the unions, of fear mongering. I think they are creating much of that and most of the dissension within the system,” she said via cellphone from a UNA rally outside Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton at noon on Friday.
The province’s new plan to impose a wage freeze on public employees, including health-care workers, gave nurses yet another reason on Friday to protest after recent government decisions to slash mental health beds and fears of job cuts to address the health-care deficit.
Health Minister Ron Liepert, who toured Lacombe Hospital and Care Centre on Friday, said the wage freeze isn’t about cutting health-care funding.
“We’re talking about restraint in the health-care spending,” said Liepert before attending the official reopening of Rimbey Hospital and Care Centre as part of his six-month tour of rural hospitals.
“Obviously, the majority of dollars spent on health care go towards wages, so if we are working with the various unions and providers to curtail wage increases over the next two years, that’s going to go a long way to ensuring that facilities, such as this, will continue to be economically viable. And it’s part of ensuring these facilities will continue to provide the services they’re currently providing.”
He said Alberta health-care providers earn among the highest wages in Canada.
Sustrik said Alberta’s registered nurses may make a good wage but it has been a wealthy province and living expenses run high.
Most nursing graduates are leaving Alberta, choosing to work in stable health-care systems where they are valued and respected, she said.
Liepert said he is touring rural hospitals to assure communities and staff that they will continue to have a place in Alberta’s health-care system.
“Facilities like this one in Lacombe . . . will play an ever-increasing role in the delivery of health care across the province, not like some are saying, that it’s going to be a downsizing.”
Sustrik said nurses are concerned about exactly what government has planned for rural hospitals.
“The people this government serves have never been given the privilege of knowing what the actual plan is.”